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Monday, 29 July 2019
Page: 1199

Mr DRUM (NichollsChief Nationals Whip) (15:43): The member for Hunter finished his contribution with 'the farmers of Australia need to be supported now' and that's exactly what we're going to do. They can't and won't wait for another 12 months for the drought fund to become available. They won't another day and they won't wait another second, because we've been supporting our farmers, who have been in drought for the last four years, every step of the way. When the milk crisis came through northern Victoria, right through the Australian dairy industry, we supported our dairy farmers then. We didn't have a drought fund available, but we didn't wait. The Labor Party have been very deceptive in relation to their language around the $100 million per annum contribution to a drought resilience fund by saying that it's not going to come on stream for another 12 months. It won't, but in the meantime we are going to continue to pour billions of dollars into supporting our farmers in a way that the Labor Party never would.

If you read carefully between the lines of what the shadow minister for agriculture is saying, he is saying that if he had the rudders of power he would do things dramatically different. This is quoting back his words from his latest contribution. He would make sure that any money that was going towards farmers was going to make sure they either got back to profitability or were enabled to exit the industry. The understanding is that it's never that clear cut. It's never so black and white.

When I first came to parliament, the vast majority of the farm household allowance was to make up for the incredible hit that many of our dairy farmers were getting due to the milk price, which dropped from around the $6 mark to $4.40. All of a sudden, a solution that had nothing to do with drought was desperately needed in an area to assist one certain commodity of our agricultural sector. Once milk prices started to improve we were hit with this ridiculous drought. The drought was incredibly short in the northern Victorian regions, but the consequences were incredibly harsh on nearly everybody. The price of water escalated at an unbelievable rate. Never before had the price of water been seen to rise so quickly, to a value far out of the reach of dairy, horticulture and most of the commodities grown throughout northern Victoria. Only certain types of commodities, such as citrus, almonds and table grapes, were able to afford to purchase the water that was currently available.

It's not as simple as the member for Hunter would like to believe. His whole contribution was effectively just commentary from outside, being critical of former Minister Joyce, when he was in the role; critical of what Minister Littleproud had done; critical of what Minister McKenzie is doing currently; and critical of what the Prime Minister is doing. But not once in the 30-minute contribution did Labor put forward one policy, one area where they would like to change things or one area of improvement. Thirty minutes of commenting on what's going on in relation to the farm household allowance is typical of Labor, wanting to be negative about everything that's going on within the agricultural sector; all the support packages that are in place; the fact that we have extended farm household allowance out to four years to fix up the very issues that he is going crook about; and the fact that we've moved to reinstate, with this amendment, the $5 million asset limit. Because of the reinstatement of the $5 million limit we've got about an extra 380 people that have been able to access the farm household allowance; around $37,000. We've still got lower interest loans in place. We're still able to give people respite in the interest rates that they're paying, to the tune of half of their outstanding debt. This is genuine financial assistance. Yes, it's costing the government and the taxpayers of Australia money, but it's being put into an area where we think it's going to have the biggest impact in assisting our drought-affected farmers.

What the drought-affected farmers really want is the ability to be able to purchase water to enable them to look after their own interests. What we have seen from Labor is policy after policy that is going to make water more expensive, not less expensive. It will make water less affordable and further out of reach of our drought-affected farmers. Right throughout the southern Riverina, right throughout northern Victoria and up into Sunraysia, we're going to find that water is becoming further out of reach because of what the Labor Party are proposing.

What we're suggesting is that we need to have a real look at the amount of water that has been taken away from agriculture and returned to the environment, but we don't get any support at all from the Labor Party, who could, in fact, make a meaningful difference if they were to come to the party in favour of agriculture and in favour of our farmers. If they were to start arguing for the wellbeing and the financial longevity of our farming sector—if they were to take that line—we could simply sit down and have real conversations about how we can assist our drought-affected farmers, but the Labor Party will not entertain that line of debate, that line of conversation and that line of policy. They just won't go anywhere near it. They continue to prioritise the health of fish above the health of our farmers, and unfortunately this is the truth associated with the Labor Party when it comes to drought-affected farmers.

We are putting in place the necessary legislation to ensure that we take this cap up from $3 million to $5 million to include a whole other range of farmers who are asset rich but cash poor, to enable them to stay in the industry by including all those farms valued up to $5 million as being able to be recipients of the farm household allowance, as they were under the legislation that ceased as of 30 June this year. This amendment is going to reinstate that limit back up to $5 million. What we are doing here is putting in place the support that our farmers need—this is the conversation that we've been having with our people—to ensure that they will have the best chance of maintaining their place in one of the great industries of Australia, and that is agriculture.

Yes, at various times they need a bit of support, but you'd also like to ask the people of Melbourne and Sydney whose side they are on. Are they on the side of this unlimited amount of water that has been given to the environment irrespective of the outcomes, the pain, the damage and the detriment that that water is causing amongst our agricultural communities and amongst the Murray-Darling Basin communities? Two point three million people are all suffering, because it would seem as though the science that we used when putting together the Murray-Darling Basin Plan right back in 2009 might not now be accurate. What we've now found is that we've got these incredible consequences where there is damage that was never perceived or envisioned, which would be the pain and the detriment that our communities would go through. Not just the farming communities and the farmers but also the nearby towns and regional cities are all feeling the effects of taking too much water out of agriculture and having it returned to the environment.

In a very short time—between maybe eight or nine and 12 months—the dry spell that we envisaged, went through and lived through was hopefully broken at the start of May this year, but again we are at the beck and call of nature. We've had three months of a really good start to this season, but we need the winter rains to continue throughout northern Victoria. We need spring rains to materialise to give those farmers a genuine break. At the moment we've got a chance, but we need it to continue. If it doesn't continue, all of the consequences associated with the drought are still in play, with grain and water still too expensive for our farmers to purchase.

What do we have from the Labor Party? We have no ideas and no policy—just criticism and this underlying threat within the language: 'If we were in power, we wouldn't be giving them the farm household allowance unless they could definitely show a way back to profitability or unless they could definitely show a way how they were going to get out of the industry altogether.' It just shows a complete lack of understanding and a complete lack of empathy. As I've said often before, the people in northern Victoria don't need sympathy from the Labor Party or from Melbourne and Sydney; they just need the water.